“Sponsor logos on a wall. Speakers on a podium. At some point, you will hit a ceiling [if that is the extent of your offering]. In contrast, the number of connections you can curate at an event increases as you get bigger and have more participants - and you deliver greater value.”
This - said Alex Johnson, CEO at GFC Media - was the kind of thought process fundamental to moving GFC Media’s small conference business to a scalable marketplace events business. A business that recently secured access to significant growth capital through its sale to Horizon Capital LLP.
GFC Media delivers events for the corporate finance and investment banking sector in emerging and frontier markets. Its events bring together companies looking to raise capital, investors looking to deploy capital, and bankers and financial advisors looking to broker those deals.
While starting out as a ‘traditional’ conference business (with elements of a tradeshow to generate scale), as for many B2B media, information and events businesses, the COVID pandemic accelerated the evolution of GFC Media’s business model. Today, it is positioned as a ‘large-scale marketplace’ events business.
“Before COVID we were already in the business of connecting people,” said Alex. “We had a conference, a good brand and could capture a large proportion of the key market players in one place. But 99% of the value that attendees got from coming to our events happened outside the room, when they bumped into each other between streams. So, the question was, ‘how do we monetise that?’”.

Driving genuine business results for attendees

While connecting different market players (and making that pay) might sound straightforward, GFC Media’s approach hasn’t been the usual networking play. What sets it apart is that the connections forged through 121 meetings facilitate genuine business results - transactions - that are very high in value and demonstrate real ROI.
“Over the years people asked us for introductions anyway, so we started to reposition as an event that just happens to be next to a marketplace meeting - in which we coordinate and drive meetings that lead to deal flow,” said Alex.
“We still have the best audience, speakers and networking platform, but we measure our success by our rate of connecting people in meetings. The whole event is set up for those meetings to happen, meaning we can demonstrate the value and ROI to our customers. If you’re able to say that you helped to organise a number of meetings that lead to live transactions - anywhere between £500,000 or £2 million in terms of fees - then your event turns into a genuine ‘must attend’.” 
Indeed, GFC Media’s attendees come to the events for the high-quality peer connections and learning, but the added opportunity for GFC Media lay in the fact that the buy-sell counterparts want to meet each other in person, and it’s otherwise very difficult for them to do so throughout the year, so they gain huge value from attending. 
“If it’s easy for the buy-sell dynamic to come together [elsewhere] then the [event’s] value is limited. But if it’s really complicated or costly to get everyone into the same room at one time and you can coordinate that, then you have a winning value proposition.”
It’s worth noting that for the facilitated meetings to be valuable, they don’t necessarily have to generate brand-new business for the people involved. Alex explained:
“From my experience, most events are helpful to push relationships along. It’s difficult to start a brand new relationship at an event, but you can progress a relationship in a more relaxed environment. It’s different to an office-based pitching environment, and that’s where the value is.”

Advice for B2B events entrepreneurs

So, what should B2B events entrepreneurs do to enhance their own value propositions?
GFC Media’s success stems from identifying precisely where customers were getting value from their events, and then translating that into an impactful business model to scale
“It’s impossible to deliver value to your customers if you don’t understand their needs,” said Alex. “Every conference business will hear their customers say ‘The speakers and sessions are great but 90% of the value is in the informal chats that happen over the coffee breaks’. We’ve heard it in every follow-up and research call but generally, most events businesses spend 90% of their time on the quality of their agenda and speakers and sell off that instead of focusing on curating meaningful connections.” 
B2B media, information and events entrepreneurs must get close to their customers, and spend time refining (or redefining) their value proposition. The next step is turning that into a commercial business plan, ensuring all teams are aligned and bought into the plan, and navigating the bumps along the way. 
So, define your value and execute on it with focus and considered planning, reshaping it as needed, rather than simply adding more to your existing offering. 
“I think one of the main challenges owner-founder businesses face is that, when we start we have a very clear idea of what we want to do and it’s usually because we know how to do something small-scale, but well,” Alex explained.
“As you become successful your world becomes bigger, making it easier to be pulled in lots of different directions. As you go from being a startup to a scaleup it’s challenging to stick to what you know and remember what it was that made you successful in the beginning.
“However, having independent advisers can keep you focused on delivering value - sticking to what you’re good at and executing on that. If you and your adviser can come up with a plan that’s simple and focuses on what you know, do best and deliver the greatest value to your customers, and see it through - that’s the best advice you could get.”

How Collingwood supported GFC Media’s journey

Collingwood advised on GFC Media Group’s sale to Horizon Capital LLP.
“What sets Collingwood apart is their knowledge of the events / media sector and their unrivalled network within the industry; which allowed us to build a compelling M&A strategy to complement our strong organic growth, and run a competitive multi-party process ultimately connecting us with a fantastic partner to continue along our growth journey,” said Alex Johnson, Founder and CEO of GFC Media. 
GFC Media also worked with Collingwood in 2023-24 to create a best-in-class insights function in its business, first with market research conducted by Collingwood’s expert Insights team to support value proposition development, and then with a programme of work to embed the skills, processes, and tools for GFC to conduct its own insights work.
Together these projects delivered:
  • Meaningful, benchmarked satisfaction metrics to focus the business on delighting its customers
  • A wealth of high-quality insight to enable GFC to develop its events in line with customer need
  • An empowered team, with the skills and tools they need to deliver great customer insights in future.
Want to learn more about scaling your B2B events business? Talk to one of our team today.